So, as Albert mentioned at the tail end of last week, I’ve been pretty hot and heavy with Stardew Valley. I picked it up on a sick day last week – I’ve since played 16 glorious hours. 

Here’s the thing about Stardew Valley: There’s always something to do. There’s always a log to chop, rock to chip away and grass to hew. There’s clutter, and lots of it, and it’s your job to get your farm up and running as efficiently as possible. That means managing space on your farm, inventory space on your character and his many, many storage chests, and even the furniture in your farm house. There’s clutter EVERYWHERE, and managing it is have the fun.

What is it about clutter that pushes that “one more turn” button? I mean, sure, I could wrap up the day and start a new one fresh, or I could spend my remaining 5 energy points getting 4 of 8 chops in on a tree, which I’ll continue to chop down in the morning. What other games have “clutter” as part of the mechanic? I’m think loot-driven games like Diablo and The Division have “clutter” to manage; any others?

Thursday, 8:36 am – Ricky

Inventory management totally counts as managing clutter. In Fallout 4, I made it my mission to find all the toys in the world for my missing son, who (not really spoilers but don’t highlight if you care to be totally out of the know) was kidnapped as an infant. Turns out that was a completely useless effort, and it also made managing Bethesda’s Ultimate Game Mechanic – Encumbrance – extra annoying.

But, if done right, environmental exploration and inventory management can be a joy. Take The Division: I’m exploring every single piece of that map for “collectibles” that show me some more of the story. They’re so well done, I’ll open every garbage and climb every ladder to find them. Inventory management is also really well done – though, the UI is quite dense. Still, no need to “travel” back to the stash or crafting table to deconstruct some useless junk. If I don’t want it, or if I want to modify some of my stuff, in-field on-the-go changes are supported, making it easy for me to stay out in the action longer.

Also: Play Clash Royale. It’s a free mobile game, but it’s actually fun and challenging! I won’t dive too deeply into the details, but it’s a basically a smart tower offense game played with a deck of cards. Albert and I are now part of the GitRektBrah clan. GitRekt!

Wednesday, 7:01 pm – Gavin

I don’t know if it counts as clutter, but in top-down Zelda games, if there is a bush to be slashed or rock to be picked up and thrown, I will do it every time.  It’s not even that valuable an action; it may net me some more arrows or a heart piece or some rupees, but ultimately it’s a just a time-waster.  But I can’t help but play landscape simulator those games like that.

Mass Effect had a lot of loot to get through as well.  Chests, lockers, all that sort of stuff had SO MUCH LOOT to get through.  Most of it was useless as the upgrades were incremental and you could typically get by with skipping a few levels before getting the level 4 incendiary bullets or what have you.  Same thing with Skyrim – I would explore every single chest and every single barrel because I couldn’t stand the idea of these items being left behind.  It’s not because I needed the strongest weapon or because I needed more arrows or whatnot – by the end of it I was the goddamn terminator – but the idea that this stuff, which has a place (the merchant), was left scattered.  It’s a stupid compulsion and it can come dangerously close to ruining fun.  I hope I don’t fall into it in many more games.

Speaking of which, it was time for me to start playing some more modern AAA titles.  And with my terrible laptop, that wasn’t going to happen too quickly or too well.  So, in the most recent March Break sale at the Microsoft Store, I picked up an Xbox One.  I didn’t plan on picking one up until I identified five games, either out or coming, that I really wanted to play.  I picked up a “choose your game” bundle which allowed me to get Rise of the Tomb Raider, a surprise hit for the Xbox One and PC late last year/early this year.  I grabbed the definitive edition of Tomb Raider 2013, which runs so much better on the Xbox One than on my laptop that it’s ridiculous.  Microsoft also gave me a free copy of Watch Dogs and I picked up a copy of Witcher 3 for 50% off.  So, I’m flush with games!  My five games are Rise of the Tomb Raider (yes I know it’s available for Xbox 360), The Witcher 3, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst.  The Division is one I’ll seriously consider picking up at some point in the near future as I adore the Ubisoft final product, and there’s a >0 chance I want to pick up Assassin’s Creed Unity, not because I love the AC series but because I really want to explore their version of Paris.  Having just been recently, I feel like I could definitely get something a bit more out of it.

I’ve only gotten down to Tomb Raider 2013 Definitive Edition.  I’ve got maybe 10 hours into it and it feels like I’m not too far off the end.  I haven’t been spending too much time hunting animals or grinding, but I’ve been raiding every optional tomb that I come across.  The story is nothing spectacular, but the gameplay itself is so fluid and really feeds the narrative well.  As a technical accomplishment, it’s really interesting how smooth and engaging the animations are.  Running and jumping off a ledge and then using your climbing axe to land on a wall is just an amazing, realistic-looking (if physics-defying) sequence of events that really pulls me in.  Another winner to add to the 2013 list of ridiculously amazing games.

I do feel like I’m leaving some stuff behind with the collectibles – I’m not really on the hunt for them, and it’s a bit unsettling to leave the mess out there.  It’s not about completionism in this case – I’ll 100% a Deus Ex, Splinter Cell, or Zelda game, but in this case, it’s not because I want to complete the game to its fullest extent, but rather because the success of clearing one out is palpable.  Basic gaming, I suspect.

Tuesday, 7:53 am – Ricky

I just bought some cows. They’re still too young to milk, so I just make sure to pet them everyday.